Friday, August 5, 2016

Not Just 18 Till I Die - Book Review: Network18 by Indira Kannan - Raghav Bahl

I just finished reading Network18 by Indira Kannan which shares the story of Raghav Bahl and how he started  a start-up with a few thousand rupees which went on to become one of the largest media empires and created iconic brands like CNBC-TV18, CNN-IBN, Viacom18 and Moneycontrol and then lost it all due to a few very wrong decisions and huge debts. 

It is the story of the rise and fall of an empire and all the people that made this happen. 

Raghav started TV18 with Rs. 50,000 saved over a period of five years working two corporate jobs. In the beginning, they started producing content, programming and shows for other channels such as the BBC.

His co-founders were CB Arunkumar and Sanjay Ray Chaudhuri (RayC), who was also from Stephens like Raghav. Since the beginning, Raghav was super capitalistic - while India was still socialist, and the reason he used '18' was simply because it was his lucky number. Since they had no work, they needed all the luck in the world. 

They started creating programming for Business India (headed by Ashok Advani) that had a contract with Doordarshan and had sent out pilots to BBC and Star. With barely any work, Raghav would spend most of his day staring at the phone, waiting for a response on the pilots sent out.  

Raghav, who was an MBA, faced several doubts, especially when he looked at his friends who were working in cushy jobs at Goldman Sachs and Citibank and here he was with no money, no work and a phone that wasn't ringing. Finally, after an endless wait, the phone did ring and both BBC and Star had accepted his pilots. And that's how things started. 
Raghav shares his personal story on how when he was just out of school, he traveled with barely any money across India by train and later on how his leg had to be amputated at a very young age and how he started walking with a stick and an artificial leg.  All these experiences made him who he is. 

As a start-up, he had no fear of cold calling and meeting almost every channel head in the country offering his team's skills and expertise. 

As Network18 grew, they started the country's first business TV channel with CNBC and later on went on to have alliances with various large players like CNN. In his journey, his wife, Ritu and his sister Vandana Malik played important roles along with various reporters and journalists like Shereen Bhan, Menaka Doshi, Senthil Chengalvarayan and many more. 

Aggression was a part of their growth. For instance, Haresh Chawla, Network18's CEO at the time, virtually ambushed Steve Marcopoto, the CNN boss and didn't allow him to leave the room in order to pitch the idea of a joint news channel. At the time, CNN had already decided to partner NDTV, but Network18 played super aggressive and ended up forming CNN-IBN with Rajdeep Sardesai on board. 

But with this aggression, several mistakes were also made. Wrong investments, huge debts and bad deals eventually lead to big cash and financial crisis. They ended up paying stars like Akshay Kumar vast sums of money for movies, but barely made any themselves.

Eventually things got so bad, that they were losing Rs 2 crores cash per day and Raghav's health started deteriorating. He had anxiety attacks, couldn't sleep at night and his skin erupted with pus oozing out. Network18 had become a cash burner.

Finally, after countless ups and downs, Raghav wrote an email to Mukesh Ambani and Reliance went on to become the new owner of Network18.

Raghav built an empire and then lost it. But throughout his journey at Network18, he had courage and conviction. After leaving Network18, he started Quintillion (which means 1 followed by 18 zeros) Media, which am sure will be a very successful new adventure. 

This is a must read book for everyone and teaches a lot about life, business and the power and conviction of having a vision. I compliment Raghav Bahl, Indira Kannan and everyone else for making Network18 happen! 

Disclosure: Network18 - CNBC-TV18 is the publisher of The Happionaire Series and Yogesh Chabria has a regular column on Moneycontrol.  


Maya said...

Sounds like a very riveting story and will surely pick it up. The incident of Haresh holding CNN guys hostage sounds like something from the movies.

Suresh said...

Wow .....what a story....but it seems we can't still buy it on Amazon......the date says 31st August....this seems like a special autographed copy you have. Is that Raghav's sign?

Anonymous said...

Why did Reliance take over Network18? What is the real motive? share that too!!!

Anonymous said...

I didn't know Raghav didn't have a leg.....really inspirational story...thank for sharing this Yogesh........and loved hearing your beautiful message at Manifest!

Suresh the book is not yet out this is a special copy!


Ritu said...

So encouraging to read Raghav's story and all that he went through. This will be a big bestseller specially since all of us Happionaires will be reading it! But where and when do we get it? Can't seem to buy it!

Ramesh Shah said...

Now you have tempted us Yogesh!!!! But not available anywhere!!

Anonymous said...

Yogesh, am so eager to know about the downfall and also the rise...this is a book am adding to my must read list!